The Only Thing Wrong with B/R Writers' Rankings Is That They Exist

Julian JohnsonCorrespondent IMay 3, 2009


Muhammad Ali

“I say, play your own way. Don’t play what the public want—you play what you want and let the public pick up on what you doing—even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years.”

Thelonious Monk

Through contests of skill and brawn, Muhammad Ali was the Greatest. Through his conscientious objection to war, he became the People's Champion. He had to whip the pretenders and contenders in head to head competition.

Was he the greatest boxer of all time? Was he the most popular or important because of his activism? Maybe.

How does a writer or artist compete? How do they knock out or, whip, the competition? How do they win?

How do writers compete for polls or popularity and strive to be No. 1without cheapening their art, or themselves?

Thelonious Monk was a unique a jazz composer/musician. He is considered one of the architects of "Bebop," a revolution that changed jazz from dance music to art.

In his early years, he couldn't get gigs. People ridiculed his "weird" music. Because it was different and though his music expanded the idiom, it wasn't popular. Monk couldn't get in a poll let alone win one.

But Monk's wisdom and confidence—his belief that playing himself counted for more than playing to the peanut gallery—was rewarded when, ten or fifteen years after he'd begun, he was "discovered." Monk hadn't changed; the listening public had caught up.

What if Monk had decided to water down his gift in order to win polls? How would that have served the music? Or him?

I was invited here by a senior writer who found me on the 'net. I had never heard word one about this site, but it was cool. B/R's ways and means were foreign to me. All I wanted to do was write.

I've been on B/R for all of three weeks, but I wasn't born yesterday. So allow me to let fly.

If you're caught up in where you fit on the writing ladder, looking in the rear view to keep your "comp" at bay or trying to be the so-called, best, I guarantee you that your art is being sacrificed on a very puny altar.

There's an interview on YouTube where Bryant Gumbel is "trying" to interview Miles Davis. Gumbel asks where Miles thinks he rates in the jazz pantheon, among the Ellingtons and Armstrongs; Miles is dumbfounded. "Where do I rank?! Like, 'whose the best?'" Miles rasps, "There is no best in art."

Writing is art. It is fun. It can be serious, too. It can even pay the bills. But the soul of writing is art. And there is no best in art, even when its writing in the context of sports.

If you're talking about ratings or rankings, then you're probably not talking about art. You may not even be talking about good writing, though you might think you are.

B/R has its reason for rating writers. I'm aware of that fact and I've even rated a few articles myself. Not to give them a leg up on the totem pole mind you, but to acknowledge work that moved me or made me think. Now, I'll think twice.

Hierarchies corrupt. It is not people who are innately selfish; it is the system and its designers with their ladders, slots and ratings. They promote all the jousting and elbowing to get ahead. The natural generosity within people is perverted as they are dragged into a gutter of cliquish pandering and uber competitiveness.

Selfishness, like jealousy, is not nature; it is nurtured. If I stay focused on the crab just ahead, or behind me, how will I ever see the bars, the gatekeeper, or the cage that I am clucking in?

If polls or ratings come, they come. But if you choose to believe that these numbers are a measure of talent or "greatness" worth pursuing...Or if, God forbid, you politic to win these kinds of "elections"...then the termites have already begun whittling away at the foundation of your integrity. Soon, only the facade will remain.

Ratings and rankings are such easy, seductive rat bait. They suck you in and soon you're nibbling the cheese. Its poison, but it sure does taste good.

And your writing can't help but reflect that.

In the "Inner Game of Tennis," Tim Gallwey talks about how winning or losing a match is only one of the games going on when we play. There is the one between the ears, in the heart and in the gut.

Its a quasi-spiritual contest that few know exists and fewer play.

Its the game between you and yourself, between your fear and your faith, between your ego and esteem, between your God-given ability and the cataracts that see only a sliver of the potential you possess. You can win the match and still lose the game.

"I'm a competitor, I'm a winner, dammit! I want to see my name in lights. I'm BETTER than all my competition, because I compare myself to them.

I can feel the tiny feet tapping, feel the termites gnawing at me, trying to get me to surrender the inchworm of integrity that I possess."

I don't want to short circuit the power that comes from playing my way, playing me, whether it takes 15 or 50 years, critics or cretins be damned.

I write for me. And if someone else gets it, I'm a very happy boy. But wary-happy.

I don't want to be anybody's bonsai tree or contortionist. For. Any. Reason. The price, while unseen, is too high.

So don't read or rate me. And if you do, I ain't madatcha.

I'm not politicking for change, either, just recognizing the game. Keep your ratings just the way they are. Or change 'em. Let me play my way.

"One reason I admire Lee today is that he's not jumping on bandwagons. He's sticking to Lee Morgan, and you either accept it or you don't."

Freddie Hubbard